Classical worldviews still animate contemporary discourse

The fact is, there is no dispositive empirical proof about which method is best — the centralized technocratic one or the decentralized market-based one. Politicians wave studies, but they’re really just reflecting their overall worldviews. Democrats have much greater faith in centralized expertise. Republicans (at least the most honest among them) believe that the world is too complicated, knowledge is too imperfect. They have much greater faith in the decentralized discovery process of the market. … This basic debate will define the identities of the two parties for decades.

This comes from a recent editorial by David Brooks at the New York Times where he discusses some of the fundamental worldview differences between the two major American political parties and how it helps explain differing positions on Medicare and health care reform proposals.

I agree with Brooks that “this basic debate will define the identities of the two parties for decades”. I would add, however, that this is nothing new or surprising. The faith that Democrats place in centralized expertise goes all the way back to the French Revolution and the classical liberal Enlightenment mindset that reason and science could eventually explain just about everything, including the social world and human behavior. The Republican skepticism toward that same centralized expertise can easily be traced all the way back to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Burke, a classical conservative, makes the same argument as modern conservatives about how we ought not to be so arrogant as to presume that we can fully understand something as complicated and complex as the social and political universe, or that we can perfectly predict the consequences of every decision that we make.

The same worldviews and debates that animated reactions to the French Revolution in the 18th century still dominate much of contemporary American political discourse.

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